“Cosmic cannibalism.” Death stars consume planets’ material and ‘violently’ disrupt planetary systems

The death of a star disrupted its planetary system so “violently” that a white dwarf sucked in debris both in and out of the system. This is the first time astronomers have observed a white dwarf star consuming the rocky and metallic materials that make up planets.

A white dwarf is the remnant of a star (like the Sun) after it has shed its outer layers and stopped burning fuel through nuclear fusion.

Data released by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA observatories proved important in diagnosing this “cosmic cannibalism” case. The findings, based on analysis of material trapped in the atmosphere of the white dwarf star G238-44, help describe the “violent nature of planetary systems” and could give astronomers an understanding of the composition of the newly formed system.

“We’ve never seen both types of objects cluster together on a white dwarf at the same time,” said UCLA principal investigator and recent graduate Ted Johnson. In a statement released by NASA“By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to gain a better understanding of planetary systems that are still intact.”

The new survey is “surprising” given that small icy objects are thought to collide and “water” the dry, rocky planets in our solar system. “The composition of objects detected in white dwarfs suggests that icy reservoirs may be common in planetary systems,” Johnson explained.

“Life as we know it requires a rocky planet covered in elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” said UCLA professor Benjamin Zuckerman. “What we see in this white dwarf star The abundance of elements seems to require both a rocky parent and a volatile-rich parent — the first example we have found in our study of hundreds of white dwarfs,” he added.


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